What is Legal Malpractice?
Legal malpractice in Illinois occurs when an attorney is negligent in representing a client. An attorney can also commit malpractice by breaching a contract or a breach of fiduciary duty owed to the client.
In a legal malpractice lawsuit, a plaintiff must plead and prove (1) the existence of an attorney-client relationship (i.e. the lawyer owes the client a duty); (2) a breach of duty arising out of that attorney-client relationship; (3) that the breach proximately caused damages to the plaintiff client; and (4) damages as the proximate result of the lawyer’s negligence.
Our Chicago legal malpractice attorneys believe that professional liability cases are often the most challenging lawsuits because they involve having the lawyer having to prove “case within the case.” In other words, to prove a legal malpractice case, one must prove that the lawyer was negligent and that “but for” the lawyer’s negligence, the client would have had a better outcome in the underlying transaction or litigation.
The attorney client relationship gives rise to certain fiduciary duties owed by the attorney to the client, including the obligation to act with “fidelity, honesty, and good faith in both the discharge of contractual obligations to, and professional dealings with, a client.
Conflict of Interests
The attorney is required to avoid representing interests that conflict with those of the client—examples would include interests of another current client, a former client, or the lawyer’s own interests.
Mistakes in virtually every area of the law, including business transactions and corporate litigation matters, can give rise to legal malpractice cases. But not all attorney mistakes constitute legal malpractice. An unsuccessful result in and of itself does not necessarily mean that the lawyer was negligent. And even if a lawyer fails to do every single thing that can possibly be done leading up to, during and after trial, it does not mean that the lawyer was negligent.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty
Lawyers have fiduciary duties of loyalty, confidentiality and honesty to their clients. The purpose of these obligations is so that the client is able to trust and reveal confidences to the lawyer so that the lawyer is able to effectively represent the client. Violations of the lawyer’s fiduciary obligations can lead to serious consequences, including disciplinary sanctions, disqualification and civil liability.
If a lawyer places his or her own interests ahead of the client’s interests, or if the lawyer’s interests become adverse to those of the client, the lawyer might be liable to the client for breaching fiduciary duties. Much like with attorney negligence cases, not every wrong rises to the level of a breach of fiduciary duty. In order for fiduciary duties to exist between attorney and client, there must be an attorney-client relationship. Most fiduciary obligations end when the attorney-client relationship ends.
See Our Other Legal Malpractice Pages
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Contact Our Chicago Legal Malpractice Attorneys
Oftentimes the determination as to whether a lawyer was negligent and whether or not to file a lawsuit is not an easy one. If you think you have a legal malpractice claim, please feel free to email or call our Chicago business law firm to speak to one of our Chicago legal malpractice attorneys to inquire about your potential legal malpractice matter – 312-789-5676.